Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Six Reasons to Love D's Six Pax

My friends, it appears PID and I have been missing out.  For months, our Edgewood rooted F.O.R.T.s - along with what feels like every single other Pittsburgher - have been raving about D's Six Pax-n-Dogs. Getting there for us requires crossing one bridge and venturing through one tunnel (the horror...), so it took longer than we might have liked to give it a shot.

But since we were in the area trying out Alma last weekend, we figured we'd pop in. Right away I smelled the delicious pub food emanating from the kitchen. I was completely full from dinner, but was already starting to drool.

So instead of a typical post, I'm going to sum up our experience by giving you six (out of the possible thousands...) reasons to love D's Six Pax-n-Dogs:

1.) A bottle-shop draft menu that'll make a tap-room jealous. A rotating white-board hangs over the bar telling you exactly what you need to know about their unique selection of lagers, lambics, ales and stouts -- the alcohol percentage. (No, that's not the price by the draft name. Let's get real).

2.) A chalice of Framboise. Not a flute, not a glass, a chalice. All too often, I wind up paying too much money for too little Framboise (my weakness).  At D's, you get what you pay for and a few gulps more. I'm sorry to report that I was so enamored by the chalice that I forgot to snap a photo, you'll just have to trust me on this.

3.) Freedom to invent your own hotdog (with the comfort of knowing they've got a few gems of their own to suggest). Even though PID and I had already had an official dinner that evening, we couldn't help but to give the Chicago and Chihuahua dogs a try. Holy guacamole these hotdogs hit it out of the park. Served on a soft and delicious poppy-seed bun, these dogs were busy and big, but man did they taste amazing.

Chicago dog, $3.99

PID's Chicago dog delivered what was promised: a meal fit for a Bull, a Bear and all of her Cubs with competing flavors of pepper and pickles and tomatoes all atop a deliciously juicy Vienna all beef dog.

Chihuahua dog, $3.99

My Chihuahua was certainly a dog with a bite, but with much more massive flavor than its namesake indicates. Had I not just eaten a full meal, I could have eaten five of these suckers.

And the beauty of D's Dogs is that if (for some ridiculous reason) you don't find their menu dogs particularly appealing, you can build you own from scratch - choosing from a list of more than 26 fixin's - and even choose your own meat (or non-meat for our veggie friends).

5.) Not a hotdog person? They've got wings for kings and an impressive list of appetizers.  Our Edgewood F.O.R.T.s ordered the pub fries which I couldn't stop stealing. My arteries may hate me, but my tummy kept thanking me over and over again.

Pub fries, $6.95

5.) The folks are friendly. I'm no spring chicken and sometimes I get a hint of anxiety when I step into a hip, dive bar -- like I'm just not going to fit in.  Not only did I feel completely welcome and get served right away with a smile, but the patrons were warm and welcoming as well.  There is a downstairs dining room, a bar and an upstairs lounge and each room was filled with happy, friendly faces. I was very comfortable and liking the place more and more by the minute.

6.) The cave. I've saved the best for last. I spent a good 30-45 minutes at D's before Mrs. F.O.R.T. arrived and I asked what she was having.  "I typically just head to the cave and pick when I get there," she answered.  The what?  I was clearly out of my element.  She took me by the hand and led me through the bar, across the dining room and down a hallway to the most amazing place in the world.

As soon as we reached the light at the end of the tunnel, thousands (no, seriously...thousands) of beer varieties awaited us: craft beers, imports, domestics galore, all organized by country of origin.

Note: a server saw me take this picture and said "Aw, this is an awful time to take a picture, we have, like, NOTHING in stock!" -- ummm.....what!? My eyes are already bulging out of my head. Don't mess with me, lady.

We chose our beers (after a good 15 minutes of circling the cave) and she led me to the second best part of the evening, the cooling station.

I was wondering why the beer wasn't cold, but apparently all you need to do is drop them in the super-amazing cooling station for 3, 5 or 7 minutes and voila! Beer-God works his magic and an ice-cold beer is born.  Don't want to wait for the cooling station to do it's trick?  There IS a chill-room with a great selection as well, just not nearly as impressive as the cave.

So there you have it.  Six amazing reasons why you'll LOVE D's Six Pax-n-Dogs.  I'm sure if you stop by you'll find your own reasons to love it, but hopefully mine will give you enough reason to try it out if you haven't already. If you're a bridge or two away like PID and I fear not, it's worth your journey. Whether it's to watch a game, eat a fun meal with the kids, or throw back a few with F.O.R.T.s of your own, D's is the place to do it.  So come on in.

Restaurant Information

D's Six Pax-n-Dogs
Address:1118 S. Braddock Ave. (they have another location at 4320 Northern Pike if you're a Monroeville-ite)
Phone: 412-241-4666
Reservations: Not taken or really needed, but get there early to beat the bar crowd
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week and open late-night on Thursday, Friday and Saturday

D's Six Pax & Dogz on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 27, 2012

California Taco Shop Love

Almost daily, PID and I drive by this tiny, hole in the wall, shack of a building on Rt. 51 with a sign outside that reads California Taco Shop. For months I thought this place was closed. But as I drove this past weekend, I caught a flicker of neon reds and blues out of the corner of my eye.  California Taco Shop was indeed open for business.

I had been on my way to meet PID at the gym when I saw the sign in the window and after a rigorous workout, we were both in the mood for a filling lunch to get us through the day. I immediately suggested my exciting new find and we pulled into the empty parking lot with our fingers crossed.

Inside, an adorably festive six-table dining room was waiting for us.  It was quaint, but still a pleasant surprise from the deceptively drab exterior.

An extremely friendly young man greeted us and took our order, taking the time to carefully explain to me how a torta was like the Mexican version of a Primanti's sandwich and guaranteeing that I would quickly become addicted to their fish tacos. I was also extremely excited to see that they serve...wait for it...breakfast burritos!

I decided to take him up on his offer and ordered FOUR tacos -- one fish, one beef, a carnitas and a grilled chicken. I called it a focus group.

PID ordered a chicken enchilada,  chicken burrito and a beef taco (he couldn't be trusted to not steal mine).

I am now fully convinced that angels placed this tiny little taco shop less than a mile from our house.  My carnitas was, without question, the most perfectly cooked shredded pork I've ever inhaled. It had a deep, smokey flavor that I wasn't even remotely expecting. The beef and fish tacos were equally outstanding,

Carnitas taco, $3

Chicken/Beef tacos, $3

And the promise of fish taco-addiction? No hoax. The filet was lightly breaded and fried, sealing in a deliciously buttery, flaky fish which could not have tasted any better with the freshly chopped tomatoes, cilantro, green tomato hot sauce and homemade guacamole.

Fish tacos, $3

PID's burrito was enormous and made with fresh chicken breast and fresh cut veggies. It was the perfect ratio of meat-to-veggies-to-rice-to-beans.

Chicken burrito, $6

But the real star of the show was PID's chicken enchilada. I had a tiny bite just to try it. Then had another. Then politely requested another and finally had to remind myself that I had four tacos to finish. So much flavor. Perfect balance of heat and sweet. I dreamt about that enchilada.

Chicken Enchilada, $3

Restaurant Information:

Address: 2760 Saw Mill Run Blvd (across 51 from the Dairy Queen)
Phone:  412-885-5600
Reservations: Not taken or needed.
Hours: Mon-Thurs, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
             Friday, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
             Saturday, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. (closed Sunday)

Cliffs Notes:

2 beef tacos @ $3.00
1 fish taco @ $3.00
1 grilled chicken taco @ $3.00
1 carnitas taco @ $3.00
1 grilled chicken burrito @ $6.00
1 chicken enchilada @ $4.00

Tax:                        Food tax  @ 7% (Allegheny County only) @ $1.75

Tip:                           $5.00
Total for two:          $26.75

Overall Opinion:

I think PID and I are in a bit of trouble.  Not only have we discovered the world's most delicious taco shop north of the Texas state line, but the pleasant man at the counter let us in on a little secret...they start DELIVERY on February 1st.  DELIVERY.  When PID and I first met, he used to tell me his adorable business ideas like the self-stirring pot and how he was the one who really invented TIVO. But the one he had always been the most ambitious about was opening a Mexican restaurant that delivered. I'm so sorry that PID has been beaten to the punch, but I have to admit I'm so happy that we have a taco-craving fix whenever we want it! (My tummy and my wallet may not be as approving, however).

We ate like kings (and had a few leftovers) for only $27.  We took our food home to enjoy, but I wouldn't be opposed to dining in their bright, fun little dining room sometime. The staff was incredible and the food was to die for.  This place is a win for the dive joints of the world.  Ole!

California Taco Shop on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Less-Words Wednesday: Monte Cello's Pizza

There's a little corner of heaven in downtown Pittsburgh.

Where Smithfield and Wood Streets converge sits an adorably quaint and historic-looking Monte Cello's Pizzeria. Every day, they serve up a lunchtime special of THREE slices of pizza and a large drink for only $6.50.

They have a larger menu, but what could be yummier than three cuts of their delicious, hot-and-ready pizza for under 7 bucks?

Clockwise from left: deep dish pepperoni, white chicken and broccoli, spinach, feta and tomato.


Monte Cello's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week at Alma

A busy week proved villain extraordinaire when it came to participating as much as we would have liked in Pittsburgh Restaurant Week (nooooo!), but we did manage to make our way out to Alma in Regent Square before the week came to a close.

We met a few F.O.R.T.s for a night out on the town and were excited to try some new food and delicious cocktails. I really enjoyed the warm, intimate atmosphere at Alma. The walls and decor were very colorful and made it feel a little larger than it was by clearly separating the two dining rooms and emphasizing that pan-Latin feel.

Thanks, Almapgh.com!
 Mrs. F.O.R.T and I each opted for a different  Pittsburgh Restaurant Week prix-fixe choice while the men of the table went rogue, ordering straight off the menu.

But first we started with a few cocktails.  The men tried beers from breweries throughout Pennsylvania while the ladies caved in to the temptation of the sangria, which was refreshing and delicious.  But their cocktail menu was extensive and intriguing and I was dying to give at least one of them a try.  I had a tough time deciding, but I went out on a limb with the Jalapeno Gimlet.

Jalepeno Gimlet

For gin lovers, this baby is a dream.  Made with Hendrick's gin, cucumbers and, yes, jalapenos this little treat had multi-dimensional flavor which journeyed from bitter to heat to cool in one fell sip.

The table ordered three cups of black bean chilli while I had the fresh arugula salad.  Unfortunately Mr. and Mrs. F.O.R.T. are vegetarians and we were all uninformed that the black bean chilli actually contained beef.  But PID thoroughly enjoyed the depth of flavor in his chilli which was served with shredded cheddar and crumbled feta.  I also really liked my simple salad as the sweet vinaigrette cut the bitterness of the arugula.

Black bean chilli

Arugula salad

We each ordered an appetizer as well: the Peruvian Conchitas a la parmesana (Parmesan crusted scallops on the half-shell) and Yuca fritas, a dish inspired by Dominican cuisine.

The scallops were disappointingly small and in my mind, the Parmesan was far too overpowering.  I like to taste scallop when I eat scallops. Weird?

Peruvian Conchitas a la Parmesana 

The yuca fritas (yuca is a root vegetable more popular in Latin cultures similar to a potato) were actually very good -- perfectly crispy and very delicious with a freshness you don't really find in a run-of-the-mill potato.  The sauces -- one seemed to have a chipotle/mayo base and the other a cilantro/jalapeno pesto-like taste -- complemented the fritas wonderfully.

Yuca Fritas

For our fixed-price meals, Mrs. F.O.R.T. and I were each entitled to a starter (our chilli and salad), entree and dessert. I chose the Grilled Pork and she went with the fish special, the Baramundi.

Her fish was perfectly cooked and flaky with a beautifully crispy skin.


My pork was ever-so-slightly overcooked and dry, but I really enjoyed the jalapeno and cilantro pesto (yep, again, but I was OK with that). It was also served with a white sweet potato puree which, for those who enjoy mashed sweet potatoes, would have been wonderful.  Unfortunately I am not one of those people because I am a salt fanatic and I find the flavor to be too sweet to accompany savory dishes like pork and jalapeno.  But they were creamy and had a delightful texture, so others may enjoy it much more.

Grilled Pork

PID and Mr. F.O.R.T had Cuban Shrimp in a housemade lime sauce and the "Torrejitas de frijolitos," or legume patties, respectively.

PID's shrimp were cooked to perfection and the lime sauce gave them a well-deserved kick, but he longed for something more than "shrimp and rice."  He said other than the perfection of the shrimp, he felt as though he could have made this dish at home.

Cuban Shrimp 

As for Mr. F.O.R.T., he was a big fan of his vegetarian patty and adored bitterness of the collard greens.

Torrejitas de Frijolitos

Finally we were graced with dessert.  Mrs. F.O.R.T. had the renowned Tres Leches cake and I the raspberry sorbet.

Her cake was moist and dreamy with complex flavors (like a lovely taste of strawberry) that left her pretty satisfied.

Tres Leches cake

My sorbet was extremely refreshing, with a sweet burst of berry.

Berry sorbet

In a surprising turn of events, PID decided to try the Horchata Martini, a Cinnamon vanilla made with vanilla rum and cream for his dessert. He sipped daintily and seemed to really dig it!

Horchata Martini

Restaurant Information

Address: 7600 Forbes Ave, Regent Square
Phone: 412-727-6320
Reservations: They do not take them, so show up 30-45 minutes before you're hungry!
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday through Thursday
            5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cliffs Notes:

As you may have noticed, I typically don't list our bill price when we dine with friends as a courtesy.  Meals were moderately priced and their online menu lists each price.

Overall Opinion:

This was the third time we've attempted to eat at Alma, mostly due to the fact that they don't take reservations. We came prepared this visit, making sure to put our names in about 30 minutes before we actually wanted to eat. There is a small wine kitchen around the back which is a nice place to wait for an open table.  The wait wasn't along as it had been in the past this week which was perfect.  Our server was extremely friendly and punctual. There were high points and low points of our meal, but overall we enjoyed ourselves. Should we ever go back, PID and I will be sure to try something different to give it a better shot.

Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 16, 2012

Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay -- Casting in Pittsburgh

Hello TOPpers!  Today is the very first day of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week! I'm so excited I can hardly contain my excitement!  Thirty Restaurants are participating this year by offering fixed low prices so you can break your weekly routine without breaking the bank. I definitely encourage you to head out and give one (or two, or six) a try during this awesome week celebrating local dining culture.

But while it's always great to enjoy delicious new restaurants, there's always that "elephant" in the blogosphere that we all try to avoid at all cost -- the kitchens that need work. Now I'll be the first to admit it -- if you need work, I see that as nothing but room for opportunity... so here's that opportunity!

Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay is casting right here in Pittsburgh!

Now I think we all know that I am the first one to dig deep to find the good in every dining experience, but maybe you're a restaurant owner who knows they have a great product, but have simply had trouble executing.  Maybe you're a NEW owner who's looking to perfect your kitchen's craft.  Or maybe you're a local foodie who's had one or two too many bad experiences at your former favorite establishment.  FOX is taking both applications and nominations in the Pittsburgh area starting today.

To nominate a restaurant for FOX's Kitchen Nightmares, here's some info:

wants to hear from you!
Did a recent dining experience leave a bad taste in your mouth?
Has your favorite restaurant lost its edge?
Does a local eatery need Gordon's help?
Call or Email to Nominate a Restaurant:
For more information:

To nominate your own restaurant for a kitchen makeover courtesy of Gordon Ramsey, here's some info:

wants to hear from Pittsburgh!
Is your restaurant struggling and in need of Gordon’s expertise?
How many more bad reviews can you take?
Is your staff sabotaging your restaurant?
Is your food lacking flair?
If you want CHEF GORDON RAMSAY to come into your establishment to troubleshoot your problems and try to get you back on the road to success… Contact us NOW!!!
Email or Call for more Information:
Download application or apply online at:

Eligible restaurants must have been open at least one year, offer dinner service, not be a franchise or chain and have at least 35 seats.

So here are my two pieces of advice for the week:

1) get out and give a participating Restaurant Week restaurant a try!
2) pass the word around that Gordon Ramsay is coming to town and he wants to turn your "opportunity" into Pittsburgh newest hot-spot.

I'm so excited that after all this press about Pittsburgh being a hot, hip city the dining scene is starting seeing some positive repercussions.  First Robert Irvine and Restaurant Impossible and now Gordon Ramsay!  Will someone please do me a favor and bring Anthony Bourdain and Anne Burrell here together at the same time so I can die happy?

So which restaurant are YOU going to try this week?

And of course I have to ask... which restaurant would you nominate for Kitchen Nightmares?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Best Of Pizza Club: Volume 2

2010's Best Rated Pizza: Blue Grotto

In November 2010 Pittsburgh Pizza Club stumbled upon some great pies. On a cold rainy night in the 'burgh, we found just what the doctor ordered at Blue Grotto in South Side.

Many of the clubbers had indulged in a late night snack at this joint, but never had we ever had a dinner time meal there.
We came in with a small, but solid crew to put back some slices.

Reason #1 this place rocked:
The fantastic staff!
There was a small staff (of 2) working the night we came in. The person making the pizza was enthusiastic with topping, sauce, and crust suggestions for the club. He was also very interested in giving us an education 0n the styles of pizza they make in the grotto.

Reasons #2, 3 & 4 this place rocked:
The 20" pies featured below
1/2 pepperoni 1/2 meatball
1/2 bianca 1/2 margherita

I really cannot say enough great things about this pizza. The pizza chefs really know how to perfect their craft. The cheese : sauce ratio was on point, the toppings were super fresh, and our member who recently had pizza in Italy said this pizza was the closest in taste to what she had in the homeland. The only small negative we had about the pizza was that it was not as delicious after it cooled to room temp (this wouldn't be an issue for people that ordered appropriate amounts of pizza instead of having huge eyes and stomachs both declaring "NO PIZZA LEFT BEHIND!")

Total cost per person was approx $8 each including beverages.

Overall Blue Grotto scored an amazing 8.5 overall ranking them Best in 2010.

Go there! Eat the pizza NOW! And eat it hot!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Best Of Pizza Club: Volume 1

In honor of National Pizza Week 2012, I decided to blog about the best scoring pizza since Pittsburgh Pizza Club's inception. Enjoy!

In May of 2011 Pittsburgh Pizza Club met at Fat Tommy's Pizza in Market Square. None of us had sampled their slices, but we had sampled their smells. It was time to indulge (and invent smell-o-blog).

We had a small, but excited group ready to fill our bellies with some delicious pizza treats! We started off with a large meaty pizza topped with pepperoni and sausage. Fat Tommy's pizzas are generous on the cheese and just the right amount of topping. They are not over loaded or too sparse, so you get a good taste of pizza and meaty toppings in each bite. This pizza may look like it is glowing a little bit in grease, and it probably is (that's what makes it taste so good, right?).
For the next pie, we went with the standard white pizza. Fat Tommy serves his with cheese (mozzarella), cheese (ricotta), cheese (parmigiana), and tomatoes. The pizzas really come together with a crispy thin crust. When talking to the owners and the cook, they let us know that their best sellers and most liked pizzas are their Sicilian pies. Unfortunately for us, they take an extra 20 mins to cook, so we were advised for next time to call in advance.

To finish off the pizza, Tommy suggested that we get just a plain cheese pizza, medium size pizza stretched out into an extra large pie. Now that's a good looking pie and the proud owner :)

When we were wrapping up our meeting and scoring the restaurant and food, Tommy and the other pizza chef overheard us and were shooting for bonus points. Before we could object, a plate full of canoli appeared before us. These were BY FAR the best canoli I have tasted in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, I think this was a one time deal. I have gone back since, but they don't usually have them available.

Overall, this was beyond what we expected for a new to us pizza shop (though they recently celebrated their 10th birthday).

Total cost was about $8/person.

The pizza, staff, and atmosphere really made this place memorable and the second best scoring pizza of 2011 at 8.4 overall.

Other awards given: Owner Bonus A++++++

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